There is news of P__: he has been arrested for spraying parked SUVS with red paint while riding a bicycle along a street on the Upper West Side. Oh, dear.
Well, that's P__. He has been this way ever since returning from Vietnam, where he saw and did some things that have haunted him for 35 years. Mostly the haunting sends him to places more hazardous than West End Avenue -- he is on a plane as soon as he hears of trouble, to Northern Ireland, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Iraq. Once he infiltrated a right-wing militia group in New York City. You probably didn't know we had right-wing militia groups here, but you can get anything in New York. He goes with press credentials sometimes, and sometimes he goes without. Sometimes he goes to make a documentary film. He uses a digital camera I bought him years ago, when I had money.
So P__ reports on the news, and sometimes he makes a little news himself. I haven't seen any stories about the blood on the SUVs yet, thank God. I don't know why I should feel protective of P__, obviously a man who can take care of himself, but I do. There is an ethical purity about him that I want preserved from harm. P__'s unique combination of journalism and self-destruction doesn't make this easy. I wish he would stop doing things like this. Grow up, P__, I scold him in my mind. But P__ is already grown up. He grew up suddenly, at nineteen, when he saw and did whatever it was that he saw and did.
Such people come along once in a while. They do illegal things, sometimes, and sometimes they go to jail. Jesus did some illegal things. Dr. King spent a lot of time in jail. So did Ghandi. So did Nelson Mandela. Not everybody in jail is a criminal. Not everybody isn't. Some of them are a little of both.
P__ would snort at sharing the same paragraph with Dr. King or Ghandi and it is true that it is his imprisonment is what he has most in common with them. His sorrow is more savage than theirs. P__ is not what Hindus would call a mahatma, a "great soul." He is a tortured one, roaming the earth in perpetual atonement for all its terrors.
When he comes home from one of his tours of Hell, P__ has a routine. He has coffee with friends. He goes to meetings. He writes and edits film and looks for more work.
And he does one other thing. He goes to a hospital and sits in a rocking chair, where he cuddles and rocks the babies who live there. He once told me that the time he spends holding the babies is the only time he feels at peace.
Lord, have mercy.